Meet Our KPMAS Extraordinary Nurse Award Winner: Isolina Pistolessi


Kaiser Permanente nurses play a critical role in the delivery of high-quality, safe and compassionate care for our members, patients and their families every day. Our nurses are guided by a professional practice model and vision that enables them to provide extraordinary nursing care to every patient, every time.

Each year, Kaiser Permanente recognizes our nurses who best exemplify our nursing vision and demonstrate in their practice all six of the Kaiser Permanente nursing values: professionalism, patient- and family-centric care, compassion, teamwork, excellence and integrity. Learn more about the KPMAS 2016 Extraordinary Nurse Award winner, Isolina Pistolessi, below.

As a girl in the Dominican Republic, Isolina Pistolessi dreamed of becoming a nurse. By 1975 she was on her way, enrolling in nursing school near her family’s new home in Virginia.

But Pistolessi soon learned that she didn’t fit the image of a 1970s nurse. “Most of the other students were white and American,” she recalled. “The director of my nursing school told me I would never succeed.”

Pistolessi persevered, going on to earn an RN and a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Today, she’s lead nurse and shop steward in the Adult and Family Medicine Department at Kaiser Permanente’s Falls Church Medical Center, where she’s worked since 1999. She serves as secretary for the Washington, D.C., chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses and co-lead of her department’s unit-based team. And as a respected member of the Regional Scope of Practice and Regional Health Care Redesign Committees, she works tirelessly to improve the quality of care.

“Ms. Pistolessi exudes excellence,” said her colleagues. “She demonstrates the value of the nursing profession and embeds best practices into her daily nursing practice.”

Pistolessi shared some reflections on her nursing journey:

What made you want to become a nurse?
One of my aunts was a midwife, and another was a nun. I saw how much they both helped people living in the poor sections of the Dominican Republic, where I’m from, and it inspired me to want to do the same.


What do you love about nursing?
Caring for my patients and their family members — and teaching them to take better care of themselves. I teach the In Step With Diabetes class for our Spanish-speaking members, and I love showing them how to manage their diabetes by eating better, getting exercise and maintaining their blood sugar levels.

I also love helping nurses grow professionally. This year and last, I challenged each nurse in our department to attend at least one conference. I explained the application process, showed them how to get reimbursed for their expenses and gave them tips on presenting what they learned to the other nurses so that we could all benefit from their experience.


What’s the most challenging part of your work?
Dealing with patients who are resistant to learning to care for themselves. When you have diabetes, any wound can be serious, and it’s important to know what to do. Patients sometimes feel overwhelmed and say, “I can’t do that.” It’s my job to show them that they can.


What was one of your most memorable moments as a nurse?
Years ago I was the primary nurse for a woman who needed gallbladder surgery. She hadn’t had surgery before and had no family members close by, so she felt very scared and alone. I took the time to reassure her and explain what would happen, and I could see that it gave her strength. A month later, she came back to see me. She wanted to tell me how well her recovery had gone and how grateful she was for my help.


Can you describe a professional achievement you’re proud of?
When I graduated high school in 1975, there wasn’t a lot of support for a non-white woman from the Dominican Republic who wanted to be a nurse. After I failed a class, the director of my school told me I would never succeed. But I didn’t give up on my dream, and I went back to school and got my LVN (licensed vocational nurse degree) in 1981 and maintained a 94 grade-point average. I earned my associate’s degree in nursing in 1991. And in 2009, I completed my bachelor’s degree in nursing while working full time, because I wanted to expand my nursing experience and knowledge.


What advice do you have for nurses who are new to Kaiser Permanente?
This is a great place to work because there’s a wealth of opportunity to grow and further your education. Take advantage of opportunities to learn from people in other departments and medical centers — and from the patients you care for. And enjoy your nursing journey, because it’s a wonderful journey.


What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I love to dance! I’ve even taken classes in merengue dancing. Whenever I’m cooking or cleaning, I put on some music and dance while I work.

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